A runner with an appetite for adventure!

Eye Spy Berlin – Living Under the Stasi September 13, 2011

Filed under: Contiki,Europe,Germany,Travel — Kelocity @ 1:01 pm
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Berlin is now a young, vibrant town that has previously been clouded by a dark history. First with the Nazis in WWII, and then again 20 years later by the Communists during the Cold War.

Our walking tour jumped back and forth between the 1940s and the 1960s. From one terrible regime to the next. It was amazing to me how much the histories intertwined with each other. How the effects of WWII could be seen directly relating to the Berlin Wall.


In history books in school, WWII was one chapter, and the Cold War was another separate event. I wish we were taught how connected the two really were. Berlin is definitely the best place to really understand it all.

After dinner, we did an optional Contiki excustion called “Eye Spy Berlin”. it was an evening walking tour where we learned about the Stasi (the secret police) and a little bit more about life inside the Berlin wall.

Our first stop was a Berlin wall Memorial.

This is also the largest intact piece of the wall (with the inner and outer walls together) still standing as it did 20 years ago.

The wall you see above is what it looked like to the people in East Berlin. Very plain and no graffiti.

Then about 50 meters beyond the inner wall was another wall. The space in between was called the death strip.

This area in between the walls was patrolled by watch towers, trip wires, attack dogs and police who had orders to shoot to kill if anyone tried to escape. And if that wasn’t enough, the ground was covered in sand to slow down anyone attempting to run across.




Then we walked down the road to see a section of the wall that literally divided an apartment building in half.
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Basically if your front door faced the east, you became an East Berliner, and if it faced the west, you were able to escape. Some people even jumped from windows as the wall was being built below them to try and make it to the West.

The wall also divided a church in this area as well. Whether or not you became an East or West Berliner depended on where you were at the time the wall went up. Some people went out with friends after dinner and came out and found themselves on the opposite side from their home and their families. It stayed that way for 28 years.

Nearby was the famous Tunnel 57. Friends on opposite sides planned for years to dig a tunnel and 57 people successfully escaped that way. Just two days later, the Stasi discovered it.

Then we hopped on the Coach and began a Stasi-themed bar crawl.

The first bar was CCCP (which means USSR in Russian).

The inside glowed a deep communist red.


After a while, our group got split into two and we had to find our way to the next bar by solving a few clues. The Stasi was notorious for encouraging snitching on your family and friends. They monitored mail, phone calls and daily life. People learned to write and speak in code to avoid Stasi discovery.

We had to use similar methods to find our way to our destination. One clue led to another.


Then we found it! A small bar under the street.


A drink was included at each of the stops.


In between this bar and the last one, we were surprised with giant pretzels! Berlin for the Win!


To get to the last club, we jumped on the metro.

And arrived at Matrix (a club underneath the train tracks).


It was the perfect way to cap off a great day in Berlin. I will definitely be back someday, there was way too much to see and do in just two days.

Next stop: Dresden!


Ich Bin Ein Berliner!

Filed under: Contiki,Europe,Germany,Travel — Kelocity @ 7:05 am
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Originally from August 28, 2011

Here we are. The Contiki tour officially begins! And it started out with a bang. Every day the tour manager hangs up a “Day Sheet” so you know what’s going on.

After breakfast, we jumped on the coach bus and began with a driving tour of Berlin.
I instantly fell in love with the city. Everything from the architecture to the history to the locals was impressive. We knew right away this would be a city we’d have to come back to some day.

First stop was the Reichstag building, now an official government building. It was used by the Nazis for military propaganda and was slated to become a part of Hitler’s kingdom. After the war, it fell into disarray and later, when they rebuilt the roof, they made the dome open to visitors who can look below and see congress in session. The idea was that any decision the government now makes, the public will be watching from above. It was meant to be a powerful statement.



The bus tour continued, and we noticed that there are these pink pipes all over the city. They’re literally everywhere and they pump out ground water so the buildings don’t get swamped out. Our tour manager compared them to “The pipes from the Windows 95 screen saver”. LOL

Then we came up to the famous TV Tower. It’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. It was built during the cold war by East Berlin to prove to the west that they were “more technologically advanced” than the west.

The west responded by building a giant shopping mall visible to the East to show off their flourishing free economy.
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Then we jumped off the bus and met our local guide who would take us on a historical walking tour. He was a PhD student studying the effects on the youth after WWII and the Cold War. He was fantastic and full of great stories and information.

One of the funny stories he told us was about when John F. Kennedy came to Germany during the Cold War to make a speech in 1963 to show his support for West Berlin. In his speech, he said these words in German: “Ich bin ein Berliner”. It was intended to mean “Let them come to Berlin”, but because of his Boston accent, he ended up saying “I am a Berliner”…. A Berliner is actually a Jelly Donut, so the people thought it was very funny at the time.


This church is called the Berliner Dome… it was originally supposed to have just one dome, but it ended up having quite a few.


This is one of the museums next to the Berliner Dome. I wish we had more time to explore, there is a lot of art to see in Berlin.


The architect was good, but not great because he built the outside columns before he could move this giant bowl inside to the atrium. So it has remained outside ever since.

This is a pieta of an anonymous mother holding her son, a solder who was killed in battle. It was a tribute to mothers everywhere who lost their children to the wars.


Near the university is Babelplaz. This was the site of a massive book burning of any literature that wasn’t directly supportive of the Nazi regime. Now there is a monument there below the street at the spot that it happened. If you look down, you see empty book shelves where 20,000 volumes would fit.

It’s a powerful statement because you can see the reflection of the people looking down at it.

Our tour then led us in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate.

But first, a quick story about life in Berlin during the Cold War. Each side obviously had a quite different and distinctive way of life. But during those 28 years of the Berlin Wall, an entire generation was born and grew up to become adults.

In West Berlin, things changed with the advancement of technology, industry and freedom of speech. Even the street lights were modernized over time. But in the East, their pedestrian lights still looked like this:
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When the wall came down in 1989, they went through and updated lots of things in the East. Including the street lights. That little green man was called “Ampelmann” and when he disappeared, people were kind of sad. They were, of course, happy the wall was down, but nostalgic about a life they didn’t have anymore. So they put Ample Man back and he’s now an icon in Berlin. They have souvenirs everywhere where you can get things with his image on them.

We collect Christmas ornaments when we travel, so we were excited to find some that represent an important time in history that has a somewhat nice story with it.

When the Berlin wall was up, it divided the city in half. Even the subway was stopped at the wall and the stations in between were cemented up and became “ghost stations”. The train still went through, but the doors didn’t open and an armed guard was watching the platforms as a show of force. We walked through it and it definitely had an eerie feel to it.

On a lighter note, right across from the Brandenburg gate was the Hotel Adlon.

This was made famous when Michael Jackson dangled his baby from the balcony window (as demonstrated here by my travel gnome).


And finally, we arrived at the Brandenburg gate.







When the wall was up, the gate actually became a part of the wall. And there weren’t any other buildings around it. Now, there are a few embassies (including the United States).


Around the back, they even had a statue of the Berlin Bear dressed up as the Statue of Liberty! Cute!

Then we walked over to the Holocaust Memorial. This dark part of history now weighs heavy on the German people so they really wanted to create a memorial that would be large in size, significance and emotion.

I don’t think anyone has ever explained the exact description and explanation of it, they left it open to the interpretation of each person who sees it.

There is no right or wrong way to view it, but here is my understanding of it. Each one of these 2,000+ stones is exactly the same depth and width….

But when you view them at different angles, you realize that each one is a little different and has a unique height and angle.

I think it represents that even though groups of people look the same (or are classified a certain way), when you really look at it, they are each unique individuals with something different to offer. A statement that characteristics or groups such as Jews, Gays, Gypsies, etc do not solely define a person.


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Directly below the monument is a Holocaust Museum dedicated to the victims. You can read about individual families, see their photos, read their stories and learn about their lives.

The ceiling represents all the stones above, as if to show that each of these individuals is unique and has story, a family, a home and a history. Above the ground you can see just the tip of who a person really was (the superficial appearance), but as you go deeper, you really can understand that who they were. It was very powerful.

The exhibits were simple in design, but incredibly complex in concept. It was one of the most powerful memorials we have ever seen.


LAX to TXL September 11, 2011

Filed under: Contiki,Europe,Germany,Travel — Kelocity @ 6:56 am
Tags: , , , , ,

We are just wrapping up an amazing 17-day trip to Eastern Europe. Lots of pictures and stories to share, but I am going to roll out my posts over the next week or so. Stay tuned!
From August 26, 2011

Here we are again! Heading to the airport for our 4th international trip with Contiki. It is really surreal that it’s already here. We usually go in October/November so it was a treat this year to go so soon. Our original plan was to fly Delta from LAX to JFK (New York) and then to Berlin. But hurricane Irene was threatening our plans, so we called the night before and asked to be rerouted. Now we are scheduled LAX to Amsterdam (non-stop YAY!) and then on to Berlin. We much prefer those long haul flights so it worked out perfect!IMG_7004

The flight was only 9.5 hours (which was nothing compared to our 16 hour LAX to Dubai flight last year). It was super easy and flew by (no pun intended!)

We watched a couple of movies and snoozed for a bit. I love those big planes.


We arrived into Amsterdam on time, but we only had an hour to get to our connecting flight… and that time included going through customs and running three terminals over. Eek! It was close.

We made it just in time (but later learned that our luggage unfortunately didn’t…)


But KLM and Berlin airport in general is very organized and they scheduled to have our bag delivered straight to our hotel just a few hours later.

The flight from Amsterdam to Berlin was only an hour (I love how close everything is in Europe!)

Welcome to Berlin!

Despite how extremely well rested I look in the photo above (kidding) we made our way via bus to our hotel!


Contiki hotels are all pretty much the same, but we were really impressed by the Hotel Aldea.


I think they called it a 3-star hotel, but the beds were some of the best we’ve ever had in Europe. I loved the duvet covers. We used our free afternoon to catch up on sleep, boy did we need it. Plus this bed was just too tempting to ignore. zzzzzzzz

Later on we met up with our group to hear more about the tour and what to expect.

Meet Joe! Our trusty tour manager. Those guys are amazing at keeping everything together and making our vacation flawless.

We love these meetings, they definitely get us pumped up. We have a great group this time.

First stop is Berlin! We can’t wait!


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